Supervised consumption sites save Alberta money: University of Calgary study

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A University of Calgary study has found that for every overdose at Calgary’s supervised consumption site, the province saves $1,600 in EMS and hospital costs. Michael King reports – Jun 26, 2020

A study from the University of Calgary has concluded the Calgary supervised consumption site is saving the province money.

The study looked at the costs of treating a person who has overdosed at the consumption site and compares that to how much the same treatment would cost at a hospital.

Dr. Jennifer Jackson, who studies public health systems at the University of Calgary, conducted the study as a way to quantify the financial impact consumption sites have on the health-care system.

“This study was about what saves money for Alberta health care,” Jackson said. “The takeaway is that, yes, SCS save money, free up ambulances and decrease the number of people using emergency rooms.”

The study found that for every overdose at the Sheldon Chumir supervised consumption site, the province saves $1,600 in EMS and hospital costs.

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READ MORE: Opioid overdoses killed up to 142 people in Alberta during first 3 months of 2020: province 

Since the site opened in 2018, the province has saved over $2.3 million, the study found.

Jackson said the province should take the savings into consideration, especially during tough economic times.

“We need to make sure that we’re spending our money really wisely,” Jackson said.

“This evaluation was an opportunity to ask is this program working well. And the answer is that it is, it’s different people from emergency departments, and it’s also saving the province money.”

Jackson said that the benefits to Calgarians who don’t directly use the site go beyond the cost savings.

“Most Calgarians will need the emergency department at some point in their lives,” Jackson said.

“None of us want to wait for the care that we need, so if we can keep 700 people out of [the emergency room], it means that anyone who needs emergency care will be seen faster.”
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The study used information from the Calgary supervised consumption site as well as provincial data from 2017 to 2020.

Provincial study

In March, the Alberta government released a study on the social impact of supervised consumption sites on neighbouring communities.

The report suggested that there is increased needle debris and a growing risk to public safety in the areas surrounding the sites.

Associate Health Minister Jason Luan called the report a “wake-up call” and said the government will use it to make decisions about the sites on a city-by-city basis.

In response to the latest University of Calgary study, a spokesperson for Luan said that the minister will be reviewing Jackson’s research.

“While we appreciate this research, the impact on the community in terms of safety, needle debris and increased crime goes far beyond the cost of ambulance rides and hospital care,” the spokesperson said.

“We heard from Albertans during townhalls and consultations about the impact these sites have had on their businesses and the community, and we take those concerns seriously.”

The province said it hasn’t made any decisions regarding supervised consumption services in Alberta due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


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